Keep PLI Going to Resolve Monument Designation

LaVarr WebbOne element of the president’s Bears Ears monument designation that has been given little attention is the reduced size of the monument, compared to the proposal pushed by the Bears Ears Coalition.

I believe it is significant, and even a nice victory for Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, that the new monument is 1.35 million acres, significantly smaller (550,000 fewer acres) than the 1.9 million acres sought by monument supporters — and even smaller than the 1.39 million acres proposed in the Bishop/Chaffetz Public Lands Initiative (PLI).

A reduction of 550,000 acres is nothing to sneeze at. That’s a lot of land. The monument supporters only got 71 percent of what they wanted.

Of course, what rankles monument opponents isn’t so much the size, but how it was done and what restrictions will be on the land. I fully agree that a presidential decree is a bad way to establish sweeping public land policy, rather than follow the usual law-making processes.

Supporters of the monument love to say the law-making process failed, noting that PLI didn’t get through Congress. Well, the law-making process didn’t fail. It just takes a long time, especially on something that is controversial and stirs strong feelings on both sides. It takes months and years to get anywhere close to a consensus.

There’s no reason at all that Bishop and Chaffetz can’t resurrect the PLI legislation and continue to work it through the legislative process. In fact, that’s the best way to overturn the monument designation. Supersede it with a law that is more comprehensive and far-reaching.

I hope Bishop and Chaffetz will proceed with PLI. If it’s done right, the conservation community will get a lot more land and rivers protected in several eastern Utah counties – far more than just Bears Ears.

And local residents, ranchers, governments and energy companies will have a lot more certainty regarding protections and how various parcels of land across eastern Utah can or can’t be used.

I support protecting land. Much gorgeous and pristine eastern Utah land deserves protection forever. But I also support jobs for rural economies, money for Utah’s school children, and energy independence. We can have both. There’s plenty of land for both. I’ve hiked and driven a lot of that land.

By the way, I’ve heard some environmentalists make fun of the 200 or so local citizens and leaders who held a recent rally in Monticello criticizing the monument designation. These folks have been disparaged as local yokels, rednecks, and plunderers. Remember, the dismissal of such people by liberal elitists is precisely why Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

A monumental (no pun intended) fight is shaping up in Congress and the new administration, both controlled by Republicans, over the monument and other public lands issues. It’s entirely possible that environmental groups won this battle, but will lose the war. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Reasonable policymakers should ignore extremists on both sides.